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After Identity

Social and political theorists have traced in detail how individuals come to
possess gender, sex, and racial identities. This book examines the nature of these
identities. Georgia Warnke aruges that identities, in general, are interpretations
and, as such, have more in common with textual understanding than we commonly
acknowledge. A racial, sexed, or gendered understanding of who we and others are
is neither exhaustive of the ˜˜meanings™™ we can be said to have, nor uniquely
correct. We are neither always, nor only, black or white, men or women, or males or
females. Rather, all identities have a restricted scope and can lead to injustices
and contradictions when they are employed beyond that scope. In concluding her
argument, Warnke considers the legal and policy implications that follow for
affirmative action, childbearing leave, the position of gays in the military, and
marriage between same-sex partners.

is Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean for Arts and

Humanities at the University of California, Riverside.

Ian Shapiro

Russell Hardin Stephen Holmes Jeffrey Isaac
John Keane Elizabeth Kiss Susan Okin
Phillipe Van Parijs Philip Pettit

As the twenty-first century begins, major new political challenges have arisen at the
same time as some of the most enduring dilemmas of political association remain
unresolved. The collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War reflect a
victory for democratic and liberal values, yet in many of the Western countries
that nurtured those values there are severe problems of urban decay, class and racial
conflict, and failing political legitimacy. Enduring global injustice and inequality
seem compounded by environmental problems, disease, the oppression of women,
racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and the relentless growth of the world™s
population. In such circumstances, the need for creative thinking about the
fundamentals of human political association is manifest. This new series
in contemporary political theory is needed to foster such systematic normative
The series proceeds in the belief that the time is ripe for a reassertion of the
importance of problem-driven political theory. It is concerned, that is, with works
that are motivated by the impulse to understand, think critically about, and address
the problems in the world, rather than issues that are thrown up primarily in
academic debate. Books in the series may be interdisciplinary in character,
ranging over issues conventionally dealt with in philosophy, law, history, and the
human sciences. The range of materials and the methods of proceeding should be
dictated by the problem at hand, not the conventional debates or disciplinary
divisions of academia.

Other books in the series
Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordon (eds.)
Democracy™s Value
Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordon (eds.)
Democracy™s Edges
Brooke A. Ackerly
Political Theory and Feminist Social Criticism
Clarissa Rile Hayward
De-Facing Power
John Kane
The Politics of Moral Capital
Ayelet Shachar
Multicultural Jurisdictions
John Keane
Global Civil Society?
Rogers M. Smith
Stories of Peoplehood
Gerry Mackie
Democracy Defended
John Keane
Violence and Democracy
Kok-Chor Tan
Justice without Borders
Peter J. Steinberger
The Idea of the State
Michael Taylor
Rationality and the Ideology of Disconnection
Sarah Song
Justice, Gender, and the Politics of Multiculturalism
After Identity
Rethinking Race, Sex, and Gender
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521882811

© Georgia Warnke 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2008

ISBN-13 978-0-511-39311-2 eBook (EBL)

ISBN-13 978-0-521-88281-1 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
To the memory of my parents
Paul C. Warnke, 1920“2001, and
Jean R. Warnke, 1923“2003

Acknowledgments page x
Table of cases xii

Introduction: reading individuals 1
1 The tragedy of David Reimer 15
2 Racial identification and identity 49
3 Race and interpretation 82
4 Sex and science 120
5 Rethinking sex and gender identities 153
6 Marriage, the military, and identity 188
7 Hermeneutics and the politics of identity 223
Conclusion 245

Index 249

My parents were Washington, DC liberals and condemned racism
and sexism in all its forms. As we grew up, they expected us to do
our part. Like other liberal parents in Washington, they forbade us
certain brands of juice and candy, which were associated with the
John Birch Society. They also kept us out of certain stores, movie
theaters, and the local amusement park, which even in the early
1960s remained segregated. When a nursery school teacher told me I
could not be both a mother and a lawyer, my mother said that was the
stupidest thing she™d ever heard. When my sister and I failed to show
keen enough interest in preparing for our careers immediately after
college, my mother sent away for our graduate school applications
Nevertheless, neither of my parents would have been particu-
larly interested in the issues of racial, sex, and gender identity I raise
in this book. Nor would they necessarily have thought that trying to
understand what these identities are is an important part of overcom-
ing racism and sexism. I dedicate this book to them anyway.
I was proud of them, and for the most part they were pleased
with me.
I would like to thank the National Humanities Center for the
John Medlin Jr. Fellowship it awarded me for the 2004“5 academic
year. I would also like to thank the staff of the Center and the
members of my ˜˜class™™ of fellows, especially Wendy Allanbrook,
Tom Cogswell, Betsy Dain, Deb Harkness, Greg Mitman, Kent
Mulliken, Kevin Ohi, Cara Robertson, and Pete Sigal. I very much
appreciate the support of Ian Shapiro as well as the members of the
Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside
and of the past and present graduate students in the Motley Crew
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S xi

Workshop. I am grateful to Beth Silverstein for the index, to my
oldest friend, Rosamond Pittman Casey, for the cover, and to John
Haslam, Carrie Cheek, Joanna Breeze, and Barbara Docherty for all
their work on the book.
My sons and the other members of my family know what they
mean to me.
Table of cases

Baker v. Nelson 291 Minn. 310 (1971)
Bennett v. Bennett 10 SE 2d 23 (SC 1940)
Braschi v. Stahl Associates Co. 74 NY 2d 201 (1989)
California Federal Savings and Loan Association v. Guerra 758 F2d 390
(CA 1985)
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Sears, Roebuck &
Co. 504 F. Supp. 241 IL (1980)
Gary v. Stevenson 19 Ark. 580 (1858)
Geduldig v. Aiello 417 US 484 (1974)
General Electric Co. v. Gilbert 429 US 125 (1976)
Goodridge v. Department of Public Health 440 Mass. 309 (2003)
Gray v. The Commonwealth 80 Va. 538 (1885)
Gregory v. Baugh Supreme Court of Virginia 29 Va. 665; 1831
Hernandez v. Robles 7 NY 3d 338 (2006); Supreme Court of New York,
New York County, 794 NYS 2d 579 (2005)
Hook v. Nanny Pagee and Her Children 16 Va. 379 (1811)
Hudgins v. Wrights 11 Va. 134 (1806)
In re Estate of Erlander 145 Misc. 1 (NY 1932)
In re Estate of Marshall G. Gardiner 273 Kan. 191 (2002)
Jones v. The Commonwealth 80 Va. 538 (1885)
Littleton v. Prange 9 SW 223 (Tex. 1999)
Loving v. Virginia 388 US 1 (1976)
McPherson v. The Commonwealth 69 Va. 939 (1877)
M. T. v. J. T. 140 NJ Super 77 (1976)
Perez v. Sharp 32 Cal. 2d 711 (1948)
Richards v. United States Tennis Association 93 Misc. 2d 713 (1977)
Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez 436 US 49 (1978)
State v. Asa Jacobs 51 NC 284 (1859)
T A B L E O F C A S E S xiii

State v. Gibson 36 Ind. 389 (1871)
State v. William Chavers 50 NC 11 (1857)
Takao Osawa v. United States 260 US 178 (1922)
The West Chester and Philadelphia Railroad Co. v. Miles 55 PPa. 209
Turner v. Safely 482 US 78 (1987)
United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind 261 US 204 (1923)
10 USCS x654 (2005)
Watkins v. United States Army 847 F2d. 1329 (1988)
Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 US 205 (1972)
Zablocki v. Redhail 434 US 374 (1978)
Introduction: reading

David Reimer™s doctors thought that without a penis he could not be a
boy. His parents and psychologists worried that he was not really a
girl. At the age of three, James Morris decided that he was not a boy.
The Texas Supreme Court concluded that Christie Littleton was not
really a woman and the Kansas Supreme Court had the same view
about J™Noel Ball. The International Olympic Committee decided
Maria Patino was a man while the United States Tennis Association
(USTA) decided that Renee Richards was a woman. What are these
decisions? How do we determine whether we and others are or are not
men and women? What does it mean to be either?
The sense of these questions as I ask them here is different from
the sense they have within discussions in moral psychology. Moral
psychologists focus on the question of which descriptions of others or
ourselves constitute depictions of our identities. The issue here is
which sorts of properties that a person possesses count as parts of his
or her identity and which sorts contribute only to trivial descriptions
of the person. Thus, if it counts as part of one™s identity that one is a
man or a woman “ if, in other words, this fact is not simply a trivial
description “ the question moral psychology asks is: Why? What con-
stitutes possessing any particular identity? David Copp answers these
questions in a way that highlights their difference from the questions I
want to ask. He proposes that a person™s identity consists in the set of
propositions that a person believes of him or herself and that grounds
his or her negative or positive emotions of self-esteem. Hence, if a
person believes that he is homosexual and this fact grounds positive or
negative emotions of self-esteem, then being homosexual is part of the
person™s identity. Copp thinks that given the issues surrounding
homosexuality in our culture, it would be difficult for a person not

to identify as a homosexual in either a positive or negative way. He
adds that ˜˜For similar reasons, it is likely that most African Americans
identify as such, that most women identify as such, that most Jews
who know that they are Jewish identify as such.™™1 Copp includes
caveats. First, if a set of propositions is to compose an identity, the
emotions it grounds must be relatively stable. One might weep at a
missed opportunity and the fact that one wept might cause one to feel
ashamed. Yet, unless this shame endures, it does not positively or
negatively affect one™s self-esteem and hence does not ground an
identity as a weeper. Second, identities are affected by particular
cultures and histories so that ˜˜were it not for racism and the history
of slavery, for example, it is unlikely that such a high proportion of
African Americans would have the fact that they are black as part of
their identity.™™2
In the course of this book, I shall question the first caveat and
supplement the second. Nevertheless, I want here simply to use
Copp™s analysis to clarify the initial question I shall ask. Copp™s
analysis is not interested in the question of what it is to be or to be
identified as a homosexual, an African American or a woman. Rather,
the question he asks is what role these identities play in our moral
psychology. The question I want to ask, however, is just what these
identities and identifications are. This question is more interpretive
than psychological. Whereas Copp is interested in developing a theory
that will determine the sets of propositions that can be identities for
us, I am interested in what seems to me to be a prior question: namely,
if ˜˜a high proportion of African Americans . . . have the fact that they
are black as part of their identity,™™ what constitutes ˜˜the fact that
they are black™™? Similarly, if a high proportion of women have the fact
that they are female as part of their identity, what constitutes the
fact that they are female?

David Copp, ˜˜Social Unity and the Identity of Persons,™™ Journal of Political
Philosophy, 10 (4), 2002, p. 372.
Copp, ˜˜Social Unity and the Identity of Persons,™™ p. 369.

To the extent that being a black or African American in the
United States is often more and other than being either the color
black or from Africa, it might seem clear how being black and
African American can be confusing identities to possess and identi-
fications to make. Less clear, perhaps, is how being female or identify-
ing someone else as female can be problematic. Instead, questions here
about being female or identifying others as female may seem to bring
my inquiry close to another discussion. This discussion involves the
terms ˜˜sex™™ and ˜˜gender.™™ While ˜˜sex™™ and ˜˜female™™ have come to be
used to designate fundamental biological facts, the terms ˜˜gender™™ and
˜˜women™™ have come to be used to designate the culturally variable
ways in which that biology can be expressed. This distinction goes
back to Simone de Beauvoir™s, The Second Sex. Although Beauvoir
does not herself use the terms ˜˜sex™™ and ˜˜gender,™™ her book™s most
famous line, ˜˜One is not born, but rather becomes a woman™™3 suggests
a distinction between a female sex with which one is born and a
feminine gender which one acquires. The importance of the difference
between what one is born with and what one acquires lies in its
separation of what are supposed to be invariable biological circum-
stances from what are meant to be the entirely variable forms those
aspects can take in different cultures and societies.4
Nevertheless, the distinction is not without its dissenters. On
one side are those that dispute the claim that biology is causally
irrelevant to social and cultural roles.5 Men and women are naturally
inclined to different functions for evolutionary reasons insofar as
natural and sexual selection have led to differences in intelligences,
attitudes, and behaviors. Hence sex causes gender. On another side
are those that insist that the causal connection moves in the other

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949), H. M. Parshley trans. and ed. (New York:™™
Knopf, Everyman™s Library, 1993), p. 281.
See Gayle Rubin™s 1975 account, ˜˜The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ˜˜Political
Economy of Sex,™™ in The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, Linda
Nicholson, ed. (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 27“62.
See Robert Wright, The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life
(New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

direction: conceptions of biological sex are themselves culturally con-
ditioned by conceptions of gender and gender classifications already
construct the framework for sex-based classifications.6 Thus,
Monique Wittig claims that gender classifications are part of labor
and political economy7; Judith Butler attributes them to a ˜˜compul-
sory heterosexual™™ cultural discourse8; and, following Lacan, Juliet
Mitchell traces them to the psychoanalytic ˜˜law of the father.™™9 And
on yet a third side are those who claim that nature and culture are too
entwined to pull apart in any clear or unidirectional way.
Despite their differences, it is noteworthy, at least for my pur-
poses, that the theorists and scientists on the various sides of the
sex“biology or nature“culture debate agree in focusing mainly on
causal issues. They ask how the biology of bodies is causally related
to traits exhibited by men and women or they ask how gender sociali-
zation succeeds in dividing bodies into male and female, or, finally,
they ask how biology and society work together to construct males
and females, men and women. Yet, in addition to the question of
how males, females, men and women come to be, we might also ask
what they are. What are we getting at or trying to get at when we
attribute either a sex or a gender to another person or to ourselves?
Copp™s interest is in showing how and when conceiving of oneself as a
female or a woman becomes an identity one possesses; others are
interested in discovering whether one is first a female and then a
woman or first a woman and then a female. For my part, I am inter-
ested in what females and women are and how we decide whether a
given individual is one.

See, for example, John Macionis, Sociology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall,
Monique Wittig, ˜˜One Is Not Born a Woman,™™ in Nicholson, ed., The Second Wave,
pp. 265“272.
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York:
Routledge, 1990).
Juliet Mitchell, ˜˜Introduction “ I,™™ in Juliet Mitchell and Jacqueline Rose, eds.,
Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and the ecole freudienne (New York:
W. W. Norton and Pantheon Books, 1985).

In chapter 1 of this book I ask whether any one knows. For, more
frequently than we might suspect, medical experts, legal authorities,
and psychosexual researchers disagree both with each other and with
themselves. Sometimes authorities rely on chromosomal make-up.
One is a woman if one has XX chromosomes and one is not a woman
if one has XY chromosomes. Yet, what of individuals who have
sex-reassignment surgery or individuals born with an insensitivity to
androgens so that, although they have XY chromosomes, they look
like women? Identity as a woman sometimes ignores chromosomes
and refers to the appearance of the genitalia. At other times it refers to
the set of activities and behaviors that the individual enjoys, or to the
person™s own ideas of who or what he or she is.
Such differences in accounts of who is a woman and in deter-
minations of what counts as female recall similar differences in legal
determinations of who was a black in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. State and federal courts investigated the boundaries of US
racial divisions in a variety of contexts. Slave laws prohibited the
enslavement of whites and from the late 1600s on also prohibited
the enslavement of American Indians. After the Civil War, bans on
interracial marriage prevented whites from marrying non-whites.
Until 1952, naturalization laws precluded citizenship for all those
who were neither black nor white. Until at least the mid-1960s Jim
Crow laws limited the access of blacks to almost all public services and
institutions. But how were courts to decide who was what? Just as the
medical, legal, and psychosexual communities disagree on the criteria
for being a woman today, different courts came to different conclusions
about race. Indeed, sometimes the same court came to different con-
clusions at different times and many courts contradicted themselves
whenever it was necessary to maintain the racial status quo.
Do these cases have any implications for the determination of sex
and gender? Quandaries in racial identification and identity have led to
the now widely accepted account of race as a social construction;
certainly many conceive of sex and gender as social constructions as
well. Part of the point of the present book, however, is to ask whether a

different conception of racial, sex, and gender identities might not be
equally important. For surely the way we identify ourselves and others
is a way of understanding who or what we and they are. That is, it may
be that the identities we take seriously today are ones with social and
historical causes that constructed people as certain kinds of people. Yet,
identities are also simply interpretations of who people are, interpreta-
tions that select among the various possibilities in our culture and
tradition for saying who and what people are. As ways of understanding,
however, identities possess the same features as understanding in gen-
eral and the same features, in particular, as understanding texts. When
we ask who someone is, we are asking the same sort of question we ask
when we want to know what the meaning of a particular text is; we are
trying to understand the person™s ˜˜meaning.™™
Textual understanding has at least three characteristics that are
important for thinking through the questions of identities. First, our
understanding of texts is situated. We do not come at our texts with a
fresh eye but instead with one that is pre-oriented towards the text in a
certain way because of the culture and traditions in which we have
been socialized. Second, our understanding of texts is purposeful.
When we understand a text, we do so not only from a certain perspec-
tive and not only within a certain framework of assumptions and
concerns. In addition, we have certain hopes and expectations for the
text, certain reasons for reading it, and particular worries we would like
it to address. Third, because we recognize ourselves as situated and
purposefully oriented, we are prepared for different interpretations of
the text™s meaning. We assume that others have and will understand it
differently than we do and, moreover, that we may bring a different
framework of attitudes, expectations, and concerns to it at different
points of our life. In this book, I want to suggest that our understanding
of a person™s identity is likewise situated, purposefully oriented, and
partial. As Copp™s work suggests, it is not novel to assert that under-
standing another person or oneself as a black is possible only because of
the particular history out of which we have emerged. The same holds of
races in general: we can understand people as raced individuals only

because of and within limited historical and cultural contexts. Indeed,
a particular person can be a black in the United States and a white in
Latin America and the possibility of his or her being either black or not-
black depends upon the particular histories of the particular racial
traditions involved. Nevertheless, I also want to make a further
claim: even within the historical and cultural settings in which we
can be understood as black, white, Asian or Latino/a and in which we
can be understood as females or males, men or women, we cannot only
or always be understood in any of these ways. Particular historical and
cultural contexts may give rise to racial, sexed, and gendered identities.
It is a further point to say that only particular contexts within those
broader historical and cultural frameworks can include raced, sexed, or
gendered individuals as intelligible ˜˜parts.™™
The contradictions in identity attribution that I explore in chap-
ter 1 and 2 of this book are the result of ignoring these sorts of limits on
intelligibility. Just like texts, people have different meanings in differ-
ent contexts and the meanings they have depend upon the relations,
situations, and frameworks in terms of which we are trying to under-
stand them. When we understand who a person or ourselves is, we do
so only from a certain perspective and only within a certain frame-
work of assumptions and concerns. Hence, our understanding of our-
selves and others is always partial and perspectival. An identity is
never either the whole of who we are or who we always are. Rather,
who we are depends upon the context in which the question arises and
the purposes for which it is asked. The source of contradictions in
legal, social, and medical accounts of which race, sex, or gender a given
person has stems from a failure to recognize that identities are always
situationally curtailed. In chapters 6 and 7 of this book I try to make
this point clear by looking at debates over the politics of recognition,
marriage between same-sex partners, and gays in the military. For, in
each of these cases, particular identities overflow the arenas only
within which they make sense.
Much of what I say in this book touches on two other important
issues. The first involves our assumptions about the binary nature of

sexes and genders and the second asks what is excluded in our use of
the category of ˜˜women.™™ In the hope of further clarifying my own
focus, I want to look briefly at both discussions.
The issue of the binary nature of sex and gender raises the
question as to whether we must or even should sort people into one
or the other of two and only two sets: male or female, man or woman.
Are there two and only two sexes coordinated with two and only two
genders? Adding intersexed individuals to our current binary system,
Anne Fausto-Sterling once somewhat facetiously proposed what she
called a five-sex system consisting of men, women, herms (inter-
sexuals with equal portions of male and female attributes), ferms
(intersexuals with a high proportion of female attributes), and
merms (intersexuals with a higher proportion of male attributes).10
In contrast, according to Thomas Laqueur, Europe used a one-sex
model until the latter part of the eighteenth century.11 Metaphysical
commitments about the hierarchy of nature required that men and
women belong to the same order so that men could be placed above
women in the scheme of things. The scheme did not require physi-
cians to overlook all differences between men and women. These they
saw in terms of oppositions between cold and heat, moist and dry.
Nevertheless, they tended to think that the oppositions occurred
within a single sex: female bodies were outside-in male bodies, as
Aristotle and Galen said, possessing the same telos as men but with-
out sufficient heat to take the male form to its perfect completion.12 It
followed from this view that women with too much bodily heat could
produce semen and that if women became entirely too hot through
exercise they might suddenly sprout penises.13

See Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of
Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. 78.
Thomas M. Laqueur, Making Sex: The Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990).
Ibid., p. 4.
Ibid., pp. 123“126. Also see Merry E. Wiesner, Women and Gender in Early Modern
Europe, 2nd edn. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 54.

Despite the apparent eccentricity of such beliefs, Laqueur does
not think that they can be explained simply as the result of inadequate
medical and scientific knowledge. The discovery of the clitoris during
the Renaissance could have been used to undermine these beliefs
because it meant that the model had to deal with two penis analogues:
the vagina and the clitoris.14 Conversely, the discovery of ˜˜a morpho-
logically androgynous embryo™™15 in the nineteenth century could
have been used to support a one-sex model. Laqueur therefore cites
extra-scientific causes for the move to a two-sex model. The pre-
modern and early-modern body occupied a different conceptual space
from the modern one. It was not the bedrock material substance on
which various attributes could be hung. Instead, it was an illustration of
the cosmic order in which microcosm and macrocosm were mapped
onto one another and in which men and women had their proper places
as two genders hierarchically positioned along a single body.
Numerous historical and anthropological investigations indi-
cate that we need not be content with only two genders, however.
Randolph Trumbach argues that ˜˜mollies,™™ or adult, transvestite,
effeminate homosexuals constituted a third gender in England and
Northwestern Europe in the eighteenth century and that ˜˜sapphists™™
or lesbians constituted a fourth gender in the nineteenth century.16
In regions of the Balkans, at least up to the early twentieth century,
daughters were sometimes raised as sons and women sometimes
lived as men, receiving certain male privileges and answering to
male pronouns.17 Perhaps the most famous of the additional genders,
however, are the berdaches or Two-Spirits of certain American Indian

14 15
Laqueur, Making Sex, p. 65. Ibid., p. 10.
Randolph Trumbach, ˜˜London™s Sapphists: From Three Sexes to Four Genders in the
Making of Modern Culture,™™ in Gilbert Herdt, ed., Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond
Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History (New York: Zone Books, 1993),
pp. 111“136.
See, for example, ˜˜Woman Becomes Man in the Balkans,™™ in Herdt, ed., Third Sex,
Third Gender, pp. 241“281.
10 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

cultures.18 Early studies of berdaches often saw them as homosexuals
or ˜˜sissies,™™ who the studies defined as men who had shown cowardice
on the field of battle and were thus condemned to live as women.
However, more recent studies suggest that they were either a mixed
gender of man“woman19 or a third gender,20 or even, in some cases
where the status includes berdaches mixing a female anatomy with
a masculine life, a fourth gender.21
In addition to questioning the number of sexes and genders,
theorists have also been interested in the intersections of the sexes
and genders we currently recognize with other forms of identity,
particularly race and class. The perplexities that surround sex and
gender thus do not limit themselves to the question of how sex and
gender are themselves interrelated, but how they are related to other
categories of identity and how these other identities can affect the
identities of particular individuals. As Linda Martin Alcoff puts the
point, the ˜˜expressions™™ an individual™s race take depend upon that
individual™s class and gender; the ˜˜expressions™™ an individual™s gender
take depend upon that individual™s class and race; and the ˜˜expres-
sions™™ an individual™s class take depend upon that individual™s race
and gender.22 Consequently, specifications of the category of
women pose what Sally Haslanger calls commonality and normativity
problems.23 Because of their different races and classes, there are no
characteristics that all women possess. Furthermore, if we look for
commonalities, we are in danger not only of overlooking differences
between women but also of establishing normative standards for the

Sabine Lang, Men as Women, Women as Men: Changing Gender in Native
American Cultures, John L. Vantine, trans. (Austin, TX: University of Texas
Press, 1998), p. 10.
See Lang, Men as Women, Women as Men.
See, for example, Will Roscoe, ˜˜How to Become a Berdache: Toward a Unified
Analysis of Gender Diversity,™™ in Herdt, ed., Third Sex, Third Gender, pp. 329“372.
See, for example, Roscoe, ˜˜How to Become a Berdache,™™ p. 370.
See Linda Martin Alcoff, ˜˜The Contrasting Ontologies of Race and Gender,™™ Paper
delivered at the Pacific meetings of the American Philosophical Association, 2003.
Sally Haslanger, ˜˜Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To
Be?,™™ Nous, 34 (1), 2000, p. 37.
I N T R O D U C T I O N 11

category of women that define certain women out of it. Ignoring differ-
ences in women due to race and class raises the risk of over-generalizing
from the experiences and identity-characteristics of white, middle-class
American and European women. In addition, ignoring these differences
marginalizes other women and militates against the possibility of
acknowledging their potentially very different experiences and con-
cerns. This problem is already clear in a speech Sojourner Truth report-
edly made to the women™s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851.24
Although she may never have actually delivered the speech attributed
to her, its point is clear:

That man over there says that women need to be helped into
carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place
everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-
puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain™t I a woman? Look at
me! Look at my arm? I have ploughed and planted and gathered
into barns, and no man could head me! And ain™t I a woman?
I could work as much and eat as much as a man “ when I could get
it “ and bear the lash as well! And ain™t I a woman? I have borne
thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother™s grief, none but Jesus
heard me! And ain™t I a woman?25

The statement responds to claims that women are too tender
and softhearted to engage in politics and too fragile to vote. Yet it also
shows how variable identifications of individuals as women are once
these identifications are combined with racial attributions and with
the attributions of social and economic class. Indeed, the very charac-
teristics that underwrite the identification of one group as women are
those that a different intersection of race and gender denies another.
White women™s gender status involves a physical weakness that dif-
ferentiates them from men; black women™s gender status involves the

See Deborah Gray White, Ar™nt I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South,
rev. edn. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), p. 5.
Ibid., p. 14, transliteration altered.
12 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

expectation of physical brawn. If men are meant to take care of white
women, black women are meant to take care of men. White women
are mothers; black women are not allowed to be.26
Studies and histories of alternative sex and gender schemes
challenge our own culture™s insistence on two sorts of sexed bodies
more or less tightly connected to two sorts of gendered person. For
their part, the issues of intersectionality raise questions of which
individuals belong centrally to a given category of identity, how inter-
sections of race and class with sex and gender undermine the uniform-
ity of women as a group, and what exclusions are implied in defining
women primarily in terms of the characteristics of white middle-class
women. Nevertheless, adding or subtracting sexes and genders would
not answer the questions I want to ask. For those questions are less
concerned with which or how many sexes or genders there are than
with the hermeneutic conditions of our understanding of individuals
as any of them. To the extent that questions of intersectionality high-
light the variability in our conceptions of gender, they are more con-
nected to the issues I want to explore in this book. I want to examine
the conditions under which we can intelligibly understand someone
or ourselves as a man or a woman, a female or a male. The contra-
diction in identifying women with fragility while supposing some
women capable of, or even peculiarly suited to, back-breaking work
indicates a problem with the identity of women, in my view, one that
emerges when it overshoots its boundaries. The question is what the
scope and conditions are in which it makes sense to call someone a
woman or a man, a female or a male. How far does the understanding
of an individual as a woman or man go and what are the contexts in
which it is plausible or adequate as an understanding of who he or she
is? If we identify a person as a ˜˜woman,™™ ˜˜man,™™ or berdache what do
we thereby illuminate and under what conditions?

Also see Kimberle Crenshaw, ˜˜Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity
Politics and Violence Against Women,™™ Stanford Law Review, 43 (6), 1991, p. 1252.
I N T R O D U C T I O N 13

The question here is the same for sex, gender, and race. We often
take race and sex, if not gender, to be facts about us whether or not we
adopt them, in Copp™s language, as part of our self-esteem identity. We
think we can decide whether to make being a woman part of that
identity, just as we can decide whether to make our identities and
identifications as scholars, conservatives and poker-players, for exam-
ple, fundamental to who we take ourselves to be. Yet, we assume that
there are differences here in that being a poker-player seems to exist on
a shallower level than being a woman. One seems to be necessarily a
woman but only contingently a poker-player, or really a woman and a
poker-player just for now. Being a poker-player, scholar, or a conserva-
tive is also somewhat vague as an identity, since it is not clear exactly
how much reading and writing is necessary to status as a scholar or
what precise opinions mark one as a conservative. Thus while indi-
viduals sometimes say, ˜˜I guess you could call me a conservative,™™
they rarely say, ˜˜I guess you could call me a woman.™™ Finally, identi-
ties as poker-players, scholars, and conservatives are partial. They
answer only to certain questions about who and what we are “ those
that involve what we do, what we believe, and, in the case of poker-
players, how we amuse ourselves. In contrast, we tend to conceive of
identifications and identities as men and women and whites and non-
whites as possessing a more general scope and a deeper reality. Adrian
Piper writes about the awkwardness and even outrage that attends
those social interactions in which acquaintances who previously
thought she was white decide on the basis of facts about her heritage
that she is black. She also writes about the awkwardness and even
outrage that attends those social interactions in which acquaintances
who previously thought she was black decide on the basis of her
appearance that she is white.27 Yet, it is difficult to imagine a similar
outrage or awkwardness were acquaintances to decide that she was a
poker-player instead of an ice-skater. Even if they were to decide that

See Adrian Piper, ˜˜Passing for White, Passing for Black™™, Transitions, 58. (1992),
pp. 28“29.
14 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

she was a conservative instead of a liberal, the awkwardness and out-
rage, if they arose at all, would be different. They would refer to what
they viewed as her political na±vete or wrong-headedness instead of to
what appears to them in the race case as a deep inauthenticity.
I want to argue against the meaningfulness of this conception of
inauthenticity. Our self-identities and the ways we identify others are
modes of reading individuals. As such, they possess the same condi-
tions and scope as our readings of texts do. At best, these readings are
illuminating rather than canonical, inclusive of other readings rather
than exclusive and the results of particular interpretive frameworks
rather than non-circumscribed understandings. Our understanding of
the text can be plausible and compelling without being uniquely true
of it. In addition, it can allow for other plausible understandings that
reflect alternative interpretive approaches and pick up on different
meanings. Our readings of individuals are similarly scoped. At best,
they illuminate certain identities and do so for the purposes of certain
horizons of concern. We are not always intelligible as either blacks or
whites, Latinos/as or Asians and we are not always intelligible as men
or women. It is not just that these identities are irrelevant in most
circumstances. It is, instead, that they are misunderstandings of who
and what we are.
The tragedy of David Reimer

In 1966, at the age of eight months, Bruce Reimer and his twin
brother, Brian, were admitted to the hospital for circumcisions that
were meant to cure difficulties both were having in urinating.1 Yet
Brian never underwent the procedure because Bruce™s circumcision
went disastrously awry. The general practitioner used an electro-
cautery machine to perform the procedure and something went
wrong. The machine so severely burned the baby™s penis that within
days it dried and broke off in pieces. Unsure of what to do, Bruce™s
parents consulted a variety of doctors and eventually made contact
with Dr. John Money at the Johns Hopkins Medical School. In addition
to being a respected researcher and clinician, Money had made a
name for himself as an expert in the treatment of infants born with
intersexual conditions that made it unclear whether they should be
brought up as girls or boys. Parents and doctors, he counseled, pos-
sessed a ˜˜degree™™ of freedom in deciding which sex and gender to
assign to such infants, although this freedom ˜˜progressively™™ shrank
between eighteen and thirty months and disappeared altogether at
about three years.2 Still, as long as a definitive sex and gender assign-
ment was made early enough in a child™s life, appropriate surgical

See John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl
(New York: HarperCollins Perennial Books Edn., 2001); Milton Diamond and Keith
Sigmundson, ˜˜Sex Reassignment at Birth: Long-Term Review and Clinical
Implications,™™ Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, 1997,
pp. 298“304, Web-based version at www.hawaii.edu/PCSS/online_artcls/intersex/
mdfnl.html; John Money and Anke Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl: The
Differentiation and Dimorphism of Gender Identity from Conception to Maturity
(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972), pp. 118“123; ˜˜Dateline
NBC,™™ February 8, 2000. Also see Judith Butler™s article on the case, ˜˜Doing Justice
to Someone: Sex Reassignment and Allegories of Transsexuality,™™ in Judith Butler,
Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004).
Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, p. 176.
16 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

interventions could be made to shape the genitals in one way or the
other; the condition could be further treated with hormones and the
child could be brought up as either a girl or a boy. In either case, Money
insisted, the child would develop the appropriate ˜˜gender identity,™™ by
which he meant ˜˜the sameness, unity, and persistence™™ of the child™s
sense of him or herself ˜˜as male, female, or ambivalent.™™3 Treatment
of infants with intersexed conditions, then, could be based on assess-
ments of which sex assignment was likely to lead to the best surgical
results or preserve reproductive abilities. At the same time, parents
could be instructed in child-rearing methods that would reinforce
gender identity and help create a well-adjusted child.
Although Bruce had not been born an intersexed infant, Money
was confident that the same treatment could be used on him. His
parents took his advice. Accordingly, when Bruce was seventeen
months old they began to let his hair grow and changed his name to
Brenda.4 Then, when Brenda was twenty-two months old, doctors
performed a bilateral orchidectomy that removed both testicles. The
Reimers continued to bring Brenda up to think of herself and to act as a
girl and they also withheld from her all information about her birth or
genital surgery. Throughout Brenda™s childhood, Money continued to
monitor and to assess her development, meeting with both her and
Brian once a year and publishing reports that led the psychological
profession at large to believe that the gender reassignment had been an
unmitigated success. Indeed, because it had apparently worked so
well, it provided a strong argument for the importance of environment
and nurture over biology and nature in the on-going debate about the
origins of gender identity. Assignments as girls or boys, the case
seemed to prove, were malleable, not only for intersexed children
but also for those born with unambiguous organs and genitalia. If
non-intersexed children were the victims of accidents similar to
Bruce™s, their anatomies could be reconstructed and they could be

Ibid., p. 13.
When David is Brenda, I use ˜˜she™™, when David is Bruce or David, I use ˜˜he™™, when
David is in transition, I use ˜˜he/she.™™
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 17

brought up to think of themselves as girls or boys in ways appropriate
to their new bodies. Hence, nurture was more important than nature
in a child™s gender identity.
Yet, while Money™s scientific reports and the book he published
in 1972 with Anke A. Ehrhardt5 proclaimed Bruce™s sex and gender
reassignment a success, later reports suggested that the case was not
so clear. Brenda was a handful. She was an outcast and under-achiever
in school; she did not play with dolls, ripped off the dresses her mother
put on her, and occasionally even tried to urinate while standing.6 She
walked ˜˜like a guy,™™ according to her twin brother and ˜˜Sat with her
legs apart. She talked about guy things, didn™t give a crap about clean-
ing house, getting married, wearing make up. We both wanted to play
with guys, build forts and have snowball fights and play army. She™d
get a skipping rope for a gift, and the only thing we™d use that for was to
tie people up, whip people with it.™™7 Brenda was sometimes more
interested in Brian™s toys than he was. She was a good shot with his
pellet rifle, a gun to which he was himself indifferent, and she would
fight him over some of his other toys, usually winning. In their yearly
meetings with Money, Brian could describe the activity of playing
with dolls better than Brenda could. Indeed, Brian™s aunt and uncle
claimed that when he was apart from Brenda he was a quiet and gentle
child, quite different from the rowdy Brenda. About her, relatives and
teachers claimed, ˜˜There was a rough-and-tumble rowdiness, an asser-
tive, pressing dominance, and a complete lack of any demonstrable
feminine interests.™™8 Sometimes, Brenda would try to be tidy, her
mother said, but for the most part, if she arrived at school, ˜˜very
clean and cutely dressed,™™ she would be ˜˜grubby, fighting with kids
and playing in the dirt,™™ within minutes.9
Brenda™s behavior took its toll on the family. She was sent to
numerous psychologists and psychiatrists throughout her childhood
and adolescence; her father became an alcoholic and her mother

Ibid., p. 4.
Diamond and Sigmundson, ˜˜Sex Reassignment at Birth,™™ Web-based version.
7 8 9
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 57. Ibid., p. 61. Ibid., p. 63.
18 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

suffered severe depressions, once attempting suicide. After years of
turmoil, a final crisis began when Brenda refused to undergo a series of
operations that were meant to construct a faux-vagina for her. Various
psychiatrists entered the battle to support Money and Brenda™s parents
in their efforts to convince Brenda of the necessity of the operation but
the standoff continued for four and a half years. Finally, faced with her
complete intransigence, the Reimers gave up the fight and informed
Brenda of the surgery and gender reassignment she had undergone as
an infant. She/he immediately stopped the hormones that her parents
had been requiring her to take and began taking testosterone instead.
In 1980 she/he underwent a double mastectomy and later underwent
various operations to begin building a penis. She/he took the name of
David, married and adopted his new wife™s children. In June of 2004,
now separated from his wife and jobless, David Reimer killed himself.
David Reimer™s case became public in an article and later a book
by John Colapinto.10 Colapinto also documented the role that the case
had already had in scientific controversies over the question of the
respective influences of biology and socialization in the development
of gender traits and in the acquisition of a successful gender identity.
These controversies continue. Nevertheless, despite their differences
over the respective role of nature and nurture in gender identity, both
sides in the David Reimer debate share important ideas about what it
is to be a girl or a boy, about which traits reflect one™s gender identity,
and how they mark the success or failure of gender assignments. In
this chapter, I want to explore these shared ideas to begin to assess the
peculiarities of our identities and attributions as men and women.11
The ideas contradict a number of legal decisions in the United States
and other countries and these decisions also contradict one another.
The question, then, is what gender identity is meant to be.

˜˜The True Story of John/Joan,™™ The Rolling Stone, December 11, 1997, pp. 54“97 and
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him.
I make a great deal of use in what follows of John Colapinto™s reconstruction of the
case because I am interested in the way that it was popularly and culturally
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 19

The conclusions to which two psychiatrists involved in Brenda
Reimer™s case, Milton Diamond and Keith Sigmundson, came are
diametrically opposed to the sanguine reports Money gave during the
length of Brenda™s girlhood.12 Sigmundson was the head of the psy-
chiatry department in Brenda™s hometown to which her case was
referred and Diamond was a consultant initially brought in by the
BBC for a documentary on the case. Whereas Money claimed that
Brenda had successfully taken up identity as a girl, both Diamond
and Sigmundson argued that she/he had not. Instead, they claimed
that David™s original, biological sex continued to assert itself through-
out his childhood and was the cause of his resistance to reassignment
efforts. Moreover, they argued that Money had miscalculated the
respective weights of biology and socialization. Neither sex nor gender
identity can be altered at will, they said. Rather, ˜˜The evidence seems
overwhelming that normal humans are not psychosexually neutral at
birth but are, in keeping with their mammalian heritage, predisposed
and biased to interact with environmental, familial and social forces
in either a male or a female mode.™™13 In his popular history of David
Reimer™s case, John Colapinto agrees. Brenda, he thinks, remained a
boy and his tragic childhood was simply a series of failed attempts to
brainwash him into believing he was a girl.14
What is the evidence to which Money points to proclaim the
success of the reassignment and what is the evidence to which
Colapinto, Diamond, and Sigmundson point prove its failure? What
is noteworthy here is that both sides have the same ideas about what
would constitute success and failure in sex and gender identity. That
is, despite their differences on what the appropriate weights are to
assign to biology and socialization, respectively, Money and his critics
agree in their accounts of what it is to be a boy or a girl and what

Diamond and Sigmundson, ˜˜Sex Reassignment at Birth,™™ Web-based version.
Ibid. Also cited in Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the
Construction of Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000), p. 70.
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him.
20 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

evidence indicates which one is. Those who criticized Money asked
the same questions about Brenda Reimer that Money himself asked
and these questions concerned the roles Brenda adopted, her prefer-
ences, interests, behaviors and her probable sexual orientation.
Yet, suppose alien anthropologists dropped down from Mars to
try to figure out what men and women are for Earthlings. I have in
mind here the same sort of anthropologists who tried to figure out
what berdaches are in Native American cultures.15 What sorts of
methods and evidence do they use to decide whether berdaches are
homosexuals, sissies, or something else entirely? The early studies of
berdaches that tried to equate them with homosexuals failed to notice
that berdaches often had different sexual orientations: some were
homosexual but others were bisexual and heterosexual. Likewise,
the studies that called them ˜˜sissies™™ or men who had shown coward-
ice on the field of battle could not account for those who, although
demoted from a warrior role, did not become berdaches. Nor could
they make sense out of berdaches who were successful warriors.16
Later studies also differentiate berdache status from a series of other
identities: from transvestites, feminine men, masculine women, and
˜˜warrior™™ women who crossed gender boundaries (by fighting, for
example) but who retained their original gender identity. In trying to
understand identity as a berdache, then, anthropologists figure out
how it works, what behaviors, attitudes, and activities are and are not
characteristic of it, what aspects of life and culture contribute to it,
and, in turn, how it fits in with life and culture.
Using the same procedures to understand status as a man or
woman on Earth, alien anthropologists might have initially inferred
from Bruce™s surgery, name-change, and gendered upbringing that
identity as a boy as a boy or girl on Earth depended on anatomy
and, specifically, that it depended on the presence or absence of a

See introduction, p. 9.
Will Roscoe, ˜˜How to Become a Berdache: Toward a Unified Analysis of Gender
Diversity,™™ in Gilbert Herdt, ed., Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual
Dimorphism in Culture and History (New York: Zone Books, 1993), p. 336.
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 21

penis. Because Bruce lost his penis, he could not be a boy. Yet, if they
had come to this conclusion, they would have been perplexed by
the continuing questions that participants on both sides of the
nature“nurture debate asked. For despite Brenda™s lack of a penis,
both sides in the debate appeared fixated on her roles, preferences,
and interests. Why?

Colapinto insists that Brenda Reimer grew up in an atmosphere free of
rigid views about gender roles.17 Nevertheless, one of Mrs. Reimer™s
earliest interviews with Money emphasizes the feminine clothing in
which she dressed her, ˜˜little pink slacks and frilly blouses.™™ A year
and a half later, Money writes, ˜˜the mother . . . made a special effort at
keeping her girl in dresses, almost exclusively.™™18 Indeed, Brenda was
required to wear dresses even in cold Winnipeg winters when other
little girls were wearing warm pants. In a noteworthy incident, Brenda
and her brother both wanted to pretend to shave with their father as he
got ready for work but Brenda was told to go play with her mother™s
make-up instead.19 In Diamond and Sigmundson™s account of the
incident, in which Joan is the pseudonym they use to protect Brenda
Reimer™s identity, the demand that she adhere to strict gender roles
is explicit: ˜˜It was also more common that she, much more than the
twin brother, would mimic Father,™™ they write. ˜˜One incident Mother
related was typical: When the twins were about 4 or 5 they were
watching their parents. Father was shaving and Mother applying
makeup. Joan applied shaving cream and pretended to shave. When
Joan was corrected and told to put on lipstick and makeup like
Mother, Joan said: ˜˜No, I don™t want no makeup, I want to shave.™™20

See Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 250.
Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Girl and Boy, p. 119.
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 56.
Diamond and Sigmundson, ˜˜Sex Reassignment at Birth,™™ Web-based version,
emphasis added.
22 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

Colapinto™s claims to the contrary, then, Brenda™s parents seem
to have thought that if Brenda were to be a girl she would need to take
on certain, quite rigidly conceived roles in her make-believe play and,
moreover, that she ought not to take on others. Moreover, Diamond
and Sigmundson agree, although for them the incident is less about
normative lessons than about empirical proof that the sex and gender
reassignment had failed. Their point in retelling the shaving story is
not to criticize the ˜˜correction™™ Brenda™s parents made in her behavior
but rather to emphasize that Brenda™s mimicking of her father and
reluctance to engage in play more appropriate to her putative gender
meant that that gender was not hers. For Brenda™s parents, identity
as a girl requires that one plays in certain ways and not others; for
Diamond and Sigmundson, identity as a girl means that one plays in
certain ways and not others.
The same holds for the toys with which one plays. Money
assured the scientific community that Brenda played with dolls; his
adversaries insisted that she did not and stressed the fascination she
had for Brian™s toys, especially his gun. Despite their differences on the
facts, both sides link identity as a girl to the same preferences: liking
dolls and not liking guns. They differed only on the question of
whether Brenda did or did not have the appropriate likes and dislikes.
They same held for chores: Brenda™s family and acquaintances found
it telling that she showed no interest in cleaning house; Money found
it equally telling that she told him that she loved ˜˜sewing, cleaning,
dusting and doing dishes.™™21 While Money™s critics cited Brenda™s
failure to adopt certain interests and pursuits as proof of her inability
to be a girl, Money pointed to the same evidence to show that she was
adapting to her female identity well.
Neither Money nor his critics limit this link between interests
and gender identity to David Reimer™s case. In fact, despite their
emphasis on the influence of post-natal upbringing on gender identity,
Money and Ehrhardt are equally interested in the gender effects of

Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 81.
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 23

pre-natal hormones. In Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, they explore
the behaviors of children who are being raised as girls but have been
exposed to excessive amounts of fetal androgens, whether naturally
or as a consequence of medication their mothers took to avoid mis-
carriage. When compared to girls who have not been exposed to these
hormones in utero, Money and Ehrhardt find what they identify as
significant forms of ˜˜tomboyish™™ behavior: including ˜˜vigorous activ-
ity, especially outdoors,™™ a ˜˜perfunctory attitude toward motherhood
and a lack of interest in either dolls or baby-sitting.™™22 The suggestions
here are that normal girls, meaning those not unduly affected by fetal
androgens, are interested in children and that girls who are interested
in outdoor pursuits or vigorous activities are interested in male behav-
iors. These suggestions do not rely on statistics that show that more
girls than boys like children or that more men than women enjoy
outdoor pursuits. Rather, children and outdoor pursuits are them-
selves gendered: interests in children are feminine interests and inter-
ests in the outdoors are masculine ones. If boys like children they are
effeminate and if girls like the outdoors they are tomboys. These
gender-crossing interests reflect the effects of pre-natal exposure to
testosterone in the cases Money and Erhardt study and display the
failure of Brenda™s reassignment in the view of Money™s critics. David
Reimer agrees. Looking back at his childhood, he remarks: ˜˜I looked at
myself and said I don™t like this type of clothing, I don™t like the types
of toys I was always being given, I like hanging around with the guys
and climbing trees and stuff like that and girls don™t do any of that

In clarifying his decision to castrate Bruce and bring him up as a girl,
Bruce™s father said, ˜˜You know how little boys are. Who can pee the

Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, pp. 10, 98“105. Also see, Anke Ehrhardt
and Heinz F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, ˜˜Effects of Pre-natal Sex Hormones on Gender-
Related Behavior,™™ Science, 211, 1981), pp. 1312“1318.
Diamond and Sigmundson, ˜˜Sex Reassignment at Birth,™™ Web-based version.
24 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

furthest? Whip out the wiener and whiz against the fence. Bruce
wouldn™t be able to do that, and the other kids would wonder
why.™™24 The ability to engage in peeing contests is apparently crucial
enough to one™s sex status and gender identity that not being able to
engage in this behavior is a reason not to try to be a boy. Perhaps this
association of gender and urination also explains the consternation
caused by Brenda™s attempts to urinate from a standing position.
Money™s critics take this behavior as unambiguous evidence that
Brenda was unable to surrender her identity as a boy and even the
guilt-ridden Mrs. Reimer complained about the additional toilet
cleaning Brenda™s attempts required.25 Yet, after Bruce™s castration,
Brenda™s urine flowed from her body at a 90-degree angle. Money
himself admits that ˜˜because after surgery the girl™s urethral opening
was so positioned that urine sometimes would overshoot the seat of
the toilet,™™ Brenda needed ˜˜more training than usual™™ to urinate sit-
ting down and that she had to use ˜˜slight pressure from the fingers™™ to
˜˜direct the urinary stream downwards.™™26 Under these circumstances,
one might think that standing to urinate would be at least as efficient
as sitting. Indeed, one might think that Brenda™s behavior was evi-
dence less of her gender identity than of an admirable effort to find a
plausible way of using the toilet given the problems with her rede-
signed anatomy. Nevertheless, neither side in the David Reimer
debate interprets her behavior in this way; rather, all understand it
as an aspect of her ˜˜real™™ sex and her ˜˜real™™ gender identity, whether
they take that reality to be male or female. The same holds for the
scrutiny of the way that Brenda walked and sat. Brian Reimer suggests
that because Brenda sat with her legs apart, she was doing a ˜˜guy™™
Other aspects of Brenda™s behavior are also meant to count for or
against her identity as a girl. Money often asked the Reimer twins who
was the boss in their relationship. In one such interview Brian

24 25
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 52. Ibid., p. 61.
Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, p. 120.
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 57.
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 25

demurred so Brenda challenged him, ˜˜Are you the boss . . . Do you
want to be the boss? I don™t think so. OK, I™ll be the boss.™™28 Colapinto
cites this exchange as further proof that Brenda had a male gender
identity and thinks further corroboration arises in the same interview
when the twins talked about their fights. Money asked Brian if he
fought with ˜˜other boys™™ and was told that he did not, that he fought
only with girls. Indeed, both twins suggested that Brenda not only
defended him when he got in trouble but could easily beat him up.29
Money seemed delighted when the twins told him that Brenda threw
like a girl but his own observation of her throwing motion disap-
pointed him.30 In reviewing the transcripts of these sessions
Colapinto claims that Money wanted to hear certain answers and
that Brenda sometimes obliged him by cataloging her performances
of feminine behaviors. Nevertheless, Colapinto thinks that the
answers are forced. Brenda was the boss in her relationship with
Brian, she fought him and won, and she threw like a boy. If Money
was privately disappointed with these behaviors, Colapinto takes
them as firm indications of problems with Brenda™s reassignment as
a girl: ˜˜Brenda could not consciously articulate her feelings of not
being a girl, but as Money™s notes show, those feelings were clear in
her interviews.™™31

Immediately after Bruce™s initial circumcision accident the plastic
surgeon at the hospital, Dr. Desmond Kernahan, told the Reimers
that a penis constructed out of flesh from Bruce™s thigh or abdomen
would not be adequate. Although it would be able to pass urine, it
would not resemble a ˜˜normal™™ organ ˜˜in color, texture or erectile
capacity.™™32 Dr. G. L. Adamson, the head of the Department of
Neurology and Psychiatry at the Winnipeg clinic where Bruce™s con-
dition was evaluated, offered the following assessment of a life with-
out treatment: ˜˜One can predict that he will be unable to live a normal

28 29 30 31 32
Ibid., p. 83. Ibid., p. 84. Ibid., p. 84. Ibid., p. 81. Ibid., p. 15.
26 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

sexual life from the time of adolescence: that he will be unable to
consummate marriage or have normal heterosexual relations, in that
he will have to recognize that he is incomplete, physically defective
and that he must live apart.™™33
It is not clear how being unable to consummate marriage trans-
lates into a requirement that one ˜˜live apart.™™ Nor is it clear what
Adamson means by denying that Bruce would be able to engage in a
˜˜normal sexual life™™ or ˜˜normal heterosexual relations.™™ Does he
mean that only heterosexual relations are normal or that normal
heterosexual relations and a normal sexual life would require func-
tions that a reconstructed penis would not be able to perform? The
former inference precludes normal homosexuals while the latter
rather unimaginatively limits normal sexual life to the intercourse
of penis and vagina. Nevertheless, whatever Adamson meant with his
comment, some of Money™s own remarks indicate that he agrees
with the first inference. A successful gender identity or persistence
of one™s individuality as male or female requires a heterosexual choice
of erotic objects. In Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, he writes that ˜˜A
child upon whom a sex reassignment is imposed during this formative
period [eighteen months to the ages of three or four] does not as a rule,
fare well in psychosexual differentiation, and may never differentiate
the appropriate new gender identity so as eventually to fall in love in
agreement with it.™™34 In reflecting upon his consultations with the
Reimers he reaffirms this view: ˜˜The child was still young enough so
that whichever assignment was made, erotic interest would almost
certainly direct itself toward the opposite sex later on.™™35
Money™s adversaries agree with this link between sexuality and
gender identity. Indeed, if they needed any more proof of Brenda™s
failure to take on a female gender identity, they suggest that it exists
in her discomfort around boys in romantic or sexual situations. Even
as a teenager, she claimed that dancing or pairing off with boys never

33 34
Ibid., p. 15“6. Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Boy and Girl, p. 16.
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, p. 51.
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 27

felt right to her.36 Colapinto also expresses doubt about the interpre-
tation that Kenneth Zucker and his co-authors give of a case similar to
David Reimer™s. In this case, the child lost his penis in similar circum-
stances, in a botched circumcision using an electrocautery device,
and, like David Reimer, he was castrated and brought up as a girl.
Zucker interviewed ˜˜the patient™™ at the ages of sixteen and twenty-six
and reported that she ˜˜was living socially as a woman. She denied any
uncertainty about being female from as far back as she could remem-
ber and did not report any dysphoric feelings about being a woman.™™37
At the same time, ˜˜she recalled that during childhood . . . she self-
identified as a ˜tomboy™ and enjoyed stereotypically masculine toys
and games.™™ She was also bisexual and was currently living with a
woman. In addition, she worked in a blue-collar job. Colapinto insists
that these admissions mean that ˜˜the case could not be deemed an
unalloyed example of the efficacy of sex reassignment.™™38

The psychologists who condemn David Reimer™s castration and
upbringing as a girl do so because his natural sex doomed him to

Ibid., pp. 126“127.
S. J. Bradley, G. D. Oliver, A. B. Chernick, and K. J. Zucker, ˜˜Experiment of Nurture:
ablatio penis at 2 months, Sex Reassignment at 7 months, and a Psychosexual
Follow-up in Young Adulthood,™™ Pediatrics, 102, July 10, 1998, Web version at
Colapinto, As Nature Made Him, pp. 250“251. Jeffrey Eugenides™ novel, Middlesex
(New York: Farrar, Stroud & Giroux, 2002) concurs with this link between a person™s
sex and gender and his or her sexuality. Eugenides™ protagonist, Cal Stephanides, has
a condition called 5-reductase deficiency in which infants with XY chromosomes
are born looking like girls. At puberty, however, they develop male characteristics.
Cal is attracted to girls when he still thinks of himself as a girl. He explains that this
circumstance did not lead to any doubt on his part that he was a girl, since he
thought he might just be a lesbian. Nevertheless when he learns of his condition
he flees the genital surgery his parents plan for him and begins to live as a man,
driven, he says, by ˜˜desire.™™ Cal says he conforms to neither the nurture nor the
nature side of the debate. He did not feel ˜˜out of place™™ as a girl; nor did he feel
˜˜entirely at home among men™™ (p. 479). Yet, because he was attracted to women, he
decided to live as a man. With this decision, Eugenides expresses his agreement with
the psychologists we have discussed in this chapter: somehow gender identity and
sexuality are mixed up together so that desiring women is masculine and it is more
natural to be a man desiring women than a woman desiring women.
28 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

failure in any attempt to develop the appropriate roles, interests,
activities, and sexual orientations. If David™s original doctors assumed
that he could be a boy only if he had the anatomy to do particular
things, their critics assumed that he could be a girl only if he had the
desire to do particular things. Because Bruce could not successfully
perform a few of the activities, both sexual and non-sexual, that boys
are supposed to be able to perform, the proponents of his castration
denied that he could really be a boy. Although Brenda had the recon-
structed anatomy associated with being a girl, because she did not
have the interests, activities, and sexual orientation that girls are
supposed to have, the critics of her castration denied that she could
really be a girl.
Yet, when we follow the suggestions of the participants on
either side of the David Reimer controversy we find that, despite
their differences, they share identical conceptions of what girls,
boys, men, and women are. The possession of a specific sex and a
specific gender is not simply a question of anatomy but also involves
differentiated sets of roles, preferences, interests, and behaviors as
well as heterosexual orientations. For all those involved in the
Reimer case, identity as a girl or woman requires that one be sexually
attracted to men; play a submissive role in relation to them; possess
interests in activities such as house-cleaning, playing with dolls, and
getting married; and have a quiet and peaceful demeanor.39 For its part,
identity as a boy and man requires that one be sexually attracted to
women; indeed, one cannot really be a man unless one can penetrate a
vagina with an attached penis and has an interest in doing so. In
addition, one must take the lead in social interactions with girls and

Here those commenting on David Reimer™s case echo medical practitioners at the
end of the nineteenth century who tried to diagnose the ˜˜true™™ sex of hermaphro-
dites by taking into account both gonadal tissue if they could find it and ˜˜the general
signs offered by the subject, like the hair, beard, breasts, the development of the hips,
the voice, the instincts etc.™™ Nor should one be fooled by female dress if a hermaph-
rodite ˜˜had the whole allure, the unself-consciousness of a man in his gaze, his
gestures, and his walk.™™ See Alice Domurat Dreger, Hermaphrodites and the
Medical Invention of Sex (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 88.
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 29

women, enjoy rough-housing and violent play, sit with one™s legs apart
and urinate from a standing position.
Of course, the interests and activities with which both sides in
the debate define the female sex and gender are spectacularly dreary.
Yet, if we return to our Martian anthropologists, we can expect them
to decide that, on Earth, being a man or a woman is a matter of the
right anatomy coordinated with the right set of attitudes, behaviors,
and sexual desires. Nevertheless, we can also expect them to be per-
plexed by at least two asymmetries in attributions of masculine and
feminine identity. In the first place, suppose that the twins had been
born with clitorises instead of penises and suppose that one of these
clitorises had been accidentally destroyed. This accident surely would
not have led doctors to suppose that the infant should not be brought
up as a girl. Indeed, some cultures require just this procedure in order
for girls to attain the status of ˜˜real™™ women. Why, then, is a penis
crucial to identity as a man, although a clitoris is not crucial to
identity as a woman and in some cultures even precludes it?
In the second place, all the participants in the debate scrutinize
Brenda™s roles, interests, behaviors, and probable sexual orientation
and all ask whether these attributes reflect the success or failure of
her female sex and gender assignment. Yet, not one participant
asks whether Brian™s interests, behaviors, and probable sexual orien-
tation reflect a successful or failed male sex and gender assignment.
Although Brenda™s doctors worried that she did not play with dolls,
they did not worry that Brian knew more about them and although
they were concerned about Brenda™s rough play, they did not mind that
Brian was mild-mannered. Nor did they even seem to mind that he
liked to fight mostly with girls. Money reports an incident in which
the twins asked their mother what her breasts were for. When she
replied that they were for feeding babies, Brian said that ˜˜he wanted to
be a mommy.™™40 Yet, even this statement seems to have caused no

Ehrhardt, Man and Woman, Girl and Boy, p. 120.
30 A F T E R I D E N T I T Y

concerns about Brian™s sex and gender identity. Why the discrepancy?
Why was the success of Brenda™s sex and gender assignment so closely
tied to her capacities, interests, and proclivities when the success of
Brian™s was not?
How might the alien anthropologists attempt to integrate these
asymmetries in their understanding of what men and women are?
They might try to resolve the first asymmetry by deciding that on
Earth it is one™s role in reproductive sexual intercourse that is the most
crucial factor in identity as a man or woman. For men, sexual inter-
course involves the capacity for penile penetration. Penises are there-
fore necessary to status as a man because a man must be able to
penetrate a vagina. But, for women, reproductive sexual intercourse
does not have the same relation to a clitoris. Clitorises are not required
to be a woman because, even if they are important for the enjoyment of
sexual penetration, they are not needed for the penetration itself.
Bruce, then, could not remain a boy because he could not penetrate a
vagina without a penis whereas if an infant girl were to suffer a
botched clitorodectomy, with doctors taking off more than they
meant to, she could nonetheless remain a girl. Our alien anthropolo-
gists might resolve the second asymmetry in the sex assignments and
gender attributions of Brenda and Brian by supposing that one™s iden-
tity as a girl or boy allows for some leeway in the closeness of one™s
identification with gendered activities, behaviors, interests, and sex-
ual orientations as long as no anomalies have entered into one™s birth
or upbringing. If one was not exposed to too much of the ˜˜wrong™™
hormone in utero or if one has a recognizably male or female anatomy
and has had it from birth, then, to a certain extent, one can act against
sex and gender type. Thus, Brian™s failure to take up certain activities
and interests was not a worry because he possessed a recognizable and
standard male anatomy and had possessed it from birth. Conversely,
because Brenda Reimer did not begin life with a standard female
anatomy, her failure to develop certain interests and behaviors or
a heterosexual orientation raised the fear that she could not really
be a girl.
T H E T R A G E D Y O F D A V I D R E I M E R 31

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